Study Reveals Low Female Representation in Sports Visuals

With the Women’s World Cup now in full flow, iStock, a leading e-commerce platform providing premium visual content to SMBs, SMEs, creatives and students everywhere, has released research revealing that only 9% of iStock’s most downloaded sports visuals depict women and girls actively participating in sports. Results are only marginally better when looking at football imagery specifically, with only 13% of football-related customer downloads showing women and girls. 

According to iStock’s visual experts, these insights fail to reflect consumer expectations regarding the visual representation of women in sports. iStock’s VisualGPS research indicates 65% of Brits agree that sports organisations and businesses of all sizes should make greater efforts to promote women’s teams and female stars.

Moreover, it is not sufficient to simply increase representation, with 73% of Brits wanting to see authentic portrayals of female athletes, where their skill and athleticism is emphasised over their beauty, glamour, or sex appeal.

“In order to bridge the gender gap in sport, to represent the full female sporting experience with an inclusive lens is key, showing fans, players, coaches, moms, community leaders, sports clubs’ ownerships and beyond,” said Jacqueline Bourke, Creative Insights Director for EMEA at iStock. “According to our VisualGPS research, almost 1 in 3 women who do not play or follow sports declared that they were never given the opportunity to learn about the sport they were interested and/or even were afraid of being judged. Businesses have an opportunity to help empower women and girls into sport by using authentic and inclusive visuals which focus on what sportswomen and girls can do rather than on how they look.” You can also check out this educational hub for Indigenous Sports Hall of Famers in Canada.

VisualGPS research also reveals a greater appetite to engage with women’s sports, with 7 in 10 Brits of all genders considering it crucial to provide female athletes with the same level of coverage as their male counterparts. Sports sponsors are taking notice with Sponsor United reporting a 20% growth in global women’s sports sponsorships in 2022. Additionally, the Women’s World Cup has already sold over one million tickets surpassing the total sales for France 2019, serving as concrete proof of the escalating support for women’s sports. 

To support SMBs in effectively marketing around women in sports, iStock’s visual experts offer the following recommendations:  

  • Choose visuals which showcase the athletic capabilities and key action moments of female athletes rather than focusing on their appearance, thereby avoiding sexualisation. 
  • Images and videos which show the realities of women and girls in sports at both the elite and grassroots levels creates deeper engagement.  
  • Look for visuals which include female support staff (such as coaches), as it provides a more comprehensive representation of the power, skill, and sustained involvement of women in sports as a whole. 
  • Think about using visuals which consider a wide range of emotions beyond joy, such as anger, disappointment, determination, frustration, love, pain, and happiness.  
  • Don’t forget to represent fans of all genders supporting women’s sports and tap into the strong sense of community that women sports offers.  
  • Above all, ensure your visuals represent diversity in age, ethnicity, ability and realistic body shapes for the sport you are showing. 
Anabel Cooper

Anabel is a graduate of King’s College London and upon graduating, she set out on a journey to inspire and empower women through her words. Besides working as a digital marketing expert, Anabel is a freelance copywriter.